Many areas of the country, including Maryland, have leaned towards lighter sentences for certain criminal convictions and have begun to understand the value of rehabilitating those convicted of crimes. The rising crime statistics in Baltimore have begun to turn that tide around, however, and the Governor is now proposing legislation that would result in harsher, stiffer penalties.
Rising Crime Leads to Discussion on Sentencing
Violent crime in Baltimore is increasing by 15% every year. At a recent meeting, The Governor pinned blame for rising crime rates on those who are released from prison too early. Many of the city and state’s top law enforcement officials attended. Baltimore judges were invited, but declined, citing laws that require judges to remain impartial, and to avoid being swayed by public opinion.
One idea being discussed is mandatory sentencing guidelines, which have come under scrutiny in some areas of the country. The Governor is proposing these guidelines only for gun-related crimes.
How Mandatory Sentencing Works
Normally, sentences are imposed by judges, who hear evidence as to mitigating factors such as the Defendant’s background, the Defendant’s role in the crime, criminal history, or standing in the community.
The type of crime is also considered, with crimes against people having harsher sentences than those against property. In most cases, the law provides a sentencing range, the judge can deviate from that range if there is a factual basis for doing so, but cannot sentence below any mandatory minimum term that is listed in sentencing guidelines.
Mandatory sentencing takes away that freedom and sets a definite penalty once someone is convicted. Proponents say that this avoids “lenient” judges from putting criminals on the street too early, and serves as a greater deterrent to others who may commit crimes. Many federal crimes have long had mandatory sentencing, for certain drug or gun crimes.
Controversy Over Mandatory Sentencing
Sentencing guidelines have also been blamed for penalties that are too harsh for the crimes involved. They also have come under scrutiny from judges, who say that guidelines take away their discretion even though they, and not lawmakers, are the ones who hear the facts of a case. Many studies also show that mandatory sentencing has a prejudicial effect on minorities and women.
Because in most cases, mandatory sentencing does not provide for any means of parole, but rather requires the entirety of the sentence be fulfilled, many argue that it takes away any incentive for those who are incarcerated to rehabilitate themselves or be on good behavior. A side effect of this policy tends to be prison overcrowding, and thus, diversion of state funds from law enforcement to the prison system.
Maryland generally provides its state court judges wide discretion in imposing sentences, and has passed legislation to avoid mandatory sentencing in the past with certain crimes. If crime statistics continue to rise, it is possible that the tide of public opinion could reverse this trend.
Sentencing is a vital part of a criminal trial. Understand the possible penalties for any crime with which you may be charged. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are arrested in Maryland.